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Your web site: First impressions are everything

By Diane Standish
Posted Friday, October 1, 2004

This may seem very basic, but if your site isn't pulling the traffic or generating the sales you would like it to, it just may not be the poor performance of classified ads, banner ads or a similar service. The real reason for lackluster sales could lie with your web site itself.

Telling someone their site has a lot of design problems is not a very popular stance, particularly if that someone just spent thousands of dollars to have it designed for them. Or, if they gave up their nights and weekends to write it themselves.

The fact of the matter is, however, that the vast majority of emails I get regarding lack of sales and consequent complaints about other sites whose 'banner ads don't perform' or 'classified ads don't work' have much more to do with my prospective customers' poor web site design than the ad or banner service they're blaming. Not popular, I know, but critical analysis is just that: critical.

This is one of the reasons why tracking statistics software is essential to the health of a site. The site owner can track exactly what's happening with an ad campaign and see for him or herself what ads are working and how long someone stays at a page. If a page gets lots of hits, but no one stays more than a moment, chances are the page is suffering from the slow load blues and no amount of advertising will generate sales.

One of the most common errors I see when analyzing other sites is, unfortunately, what a new site owner wants most - lots of graphics. Big, beautiful, full color images; spinning graphics everywhere; animated images at every corner and on every line; jumping, bouncing, flashing, bubbling images next to every paragraph. Great fun, but the more images on a page and the larger the size of the file, the longer it will take to load. Try to remember not everyone out there has a 56k modem hooked up to their 400 MhZ, 164 MB RAM CPU.

Think content. A few images will spice up a page, and enable you to "hide" valuable keywords for search engine placement, but too many large image files will send your visitor surfing before they even know what a great product you have to offer.

A good rule of thumb: keep images under 12k and try to keep each page limited to 5 or less files. A page should load in 15 seconds or less with a 28.8k modem. Again, it's content, not cool, that will keep your visitors from moving on, and keep them coming back once they've found an interesting site.

For instance, a customer wrote me and explained that he had spent a lot of money having a web site written for him, but he wasn't making any sales. He wanted to start a progressive advertising campaign to promote the site.

However, when I visited his site I knew immediately that any advertising dollars would be completely wasted. Images the size of the Grand Canyon covered every inch of every page, and what was worse, no image size specs (height, width) were specified in the HTML. The pages were filled with very nice, but very large photos, and very little text content. Even on my top of the line system, his site suffered from slow loading, big time. No matter what promotional campaign he undertook, and no matter how much money he spent, he'd never make a sale with his expensive site. Any visitors in their right mind would leave his site long before ALL those truck loads of images loaded.

Bottom line: think content; keep it simple; avoid too many images; avoid too many photos; keep animation simple - and limited. Don't talk your web designer into putting a lot of large image files on your pages. Then, and only then, plan your advertising campaign. And then, keep updating your site's content to make it dynamic, interactive and attractive to repeat visitors. If your site never changes, if your content is never updated, what's the incentive for a visitor (translate customer) to keep returning?

About the Author:
Diane Standish is Publisher of the eCave NetGazette. She has 15 years of marketing experience, both off and online in computer and business services, and is founder and President of a multi-million dollar service business.(http://www.ecave.com/)